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Flaherty Film Seminar Celebrates Its 60th

June 20, 2014

Flaherty_seminar_60The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary with a week-long program at Colgate University featuring forty-five short and feature-length films and video installations created by filmmakers from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Many address the conflicting needs for security and transparency in the modern age.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York will be showing eleven films from the program over the next week, plus two films by D.A. Pennebaker and his wife and collaborator Chris Hegedus in an opening-night event on Saturday, June 21. The films were selected by MoMA assistant curator Sally Berger and this year's Flaherty Film Seminar curators, Caspar Stacke and Gabriela Monroy. 

The MoMA series includes films by Shaina Anand, from Collaboration Around Micro Politics (CAMP) in Mumbai,India; moving-image artist Duncan Campbell, who is based in Glasgow, Scotland; and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, a member of the Raqs Media Collective in New Delhi. All are artists who explore "new aesthetic idioms" in documentary filmmaking while focusing on possibilities for democratic renewal in the contemporary global economy. The three filmmakers will show clips and discuss their works on Monday evening, June 23, as part of the series.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1972, Duncan Campbell represented Scotland at the 2013 Venice Biennale  with his film It For Others, "a social and historical examination of cultural imperialism and commodity" that will be shown at MoMA on Sunday, June 29, and has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize, which recognizes new directions in contemporary art and is organized by the Tate Gallery in London.

Earlier this week, I talked with Campbell about his filmmaking process and some of his central artistic concerns.

"I grew up in proximity to the history of Northern Ireland," he told me. "Coming out of art school, I didn't feel I could fully engage with the issues related to that conflict because by and large I saw that the gallery world was only regurgitating what was already known."

Eventually, Campbell discovered the work of Belfast Exposed, a community-based photography center, gallery, archive, and publisher that, among other things, provides youth in the community with cameras and encourages them to counter media stereotypes of Belfast's history and the issues that have animated that history.

The approach of BX and other socially engaged groups inspired Campbell to make films of his own, which today are characterized by a combination of old footage, fictional and documentary approaches, and other art forms. "I am constantly returning to Samuel Beckett, a figure who's had a seminal influence on my mental architecture," he said. "I sometimes start with a different point in mind and end up with something else. It's a process that involves intuition, and my work is not a definitive statement; my films represent thoughts, not conclusions.

"Not all my work is situated in Ireland," he added. "But I have some attachment to these histories and it's led me to an appreciation for archives and the unique and complicated perspective they give me."

Campbell's Bernadette, which will close the series at MoMA, is an open-ended narrative about the Irish dissident and political activist Bernadette Devlin. Devlin herself has appeared at forums in which the film has been discussed, but Campbell told me "she doesn’t like to talk about the films made about her; instead she takes the opportunity to speak, eloquently, about human rights and other global issues. She's not a bitter person despite what she's gone through; she's critical but inspiring."

The series runs from Saturday, June 21, through Sunday, June 29. In addition to the week-long event, the nonprofit Flaherty Seminar, which receives support from foundations, state arts agencies, universities, film centers, and individual donors, also organizes an independently curated fall-winter series in New York City and offers packages of films from the seminar to presenting organizations around the U.S.

Documentary filmmaker Kathryn Smith Pyle is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about documentary film and gentrification. 

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